Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Board of Directors and Citizens.
One-third of the population of the South is of the Negro race.
No enterprise seeking the material, civil, or moral welfare of
this section can disregard this element of our population and
reach the highest success. I but convey to you, Mr. President
and Directors, the sentiment of the masses of my race when I
say that in no way have the value and manhood of the American
Negro been more fittingly and generously recognized than by the
managers of this magnificent Exposition at every stage of its
progress. It is a recognition that will do more to cement the
friendship of the two races than any occurrence since the dawn
of our freedom.
Not only this, but the opportunity here afforded will awaken
among us a new era of industrial progress. Ignorant and inexperienced,
it is not strange that in the first years of our new life we
began at the top instead of at the bottom; that a seat in Congress
or the state legislature was more sought than real estate or
industrial skill; that the political convention or stump speaking
had more attractions than starting a dairy farm or truck garden.
A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly
vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal,
Water, water; we die of thirst! The answer from the
friendly vessel at once came back, Cast down your bucket
where you are. A second time the signal, Water, water;
send us water! ran up from the distressed vessel, and was
answered, Cast down your bucket where you are. And
a third and fourth signal for water was answered, Cast
down your bucket where you are.
The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heading the injunction,
cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling
water from the mouth of the Amazon River. To those of my race
who depend on bettering their condition in a foreign land or
who underestimate the importance of cultivating friendly relations
with the Southern white man, who is their next-door neighbour,
I would say: Cast down your bucket where you are -- cast it down in making friends in every manly way of the people
of all races by whom we are surrounded.
Cast it down in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic
service, and in the professions. And in this connection it is
well to bear in mind that whatever other sins the South may be
called to bear, when it comes to business, pure and simple, it
is in the South that the Negro is given a man's chance in the
commercial world, and in nothing is this Exposition more eloquent
than in emphasizing this chance.
Our greatest danger is that in the great leap from slavery to
freedom we may overlook the fact that the masses of us are to
live by the productions
of our hands, and fail to keep in mind that we shall prosper
in proportion as we learn to dignify and glorify common labour
and put brains and skill into the common occupations of life;
shall prosper in proportion as we learn to draw the line between
the superficial and the substantial, the ornamental gewgaws of
life and the useful. No race can prosper till it learns that
there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem.
It is at the bottom of life we must begin, and not at the top.
Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities.
To those of the white race who look to the incoming of those
of foreign birth and strange tongue and habits of the prosperity
of the South, were I permitted I would repeat what I say to my
own race: "Cast down your bucket where you are." Cast
it down among the eight millions of Negroes whose habits you
know, whose fidelity and love you have tested in days when to
have proved treacherous meant the ruin of your firesides. Cast
down your bucket among these people who have, without strikes
and labour wars, tilled your fields, cleared your forests, builded
your railroads and cities, and brought forth treasures from the
bowels of the earth, and helped make possible this magnificent
representation of the progress of the South.
Casting down your bucket among my people, helping and encouraging
them as you are doing on these grounds, and to education of head,
hand, and heart, you will find that they will buy your surplus
land, make blossom the waste places in your fields, and run your
factories. While doing this, you can be sure in the future, as
in the past, that you and your families will be surrounded by
the most patient, faithful, law-abiding, and unresentful people
that the world has seen.
As we have proved our loyalty to you in the past, nursing your
children, watching by the sick-bed of your mothers and fathers,
and often following them with tear-dimmed eyes to their graves,
so in the future, in our humble way, we shall stand by you with
a devotion that no foreigner can approach, ready to lay down
our lives, if need be, in defence of yours, interlacing our industrial,
commercial, civil, and religious life with yours in a way that
shall make the interests of both races one. In all things that
are purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one
as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.
There is no defence or security for any of us except in the highest
intelligence and development of all. If anywhere there are efforts
tending to curtail the fullest growth of the Negro, let these
efforts be turned into stimulating, encouraging, and making him
the most useful and intelligent citizen. Effort or means so invested
will pay a thousand per cent interest. These efforts will be
twice blessed -- "blessing him that gives and him that takes."
There is no escape through law of man or God from the inevitable:
-- The laws of changeless justice bind Oppressor with oppressed;
And close as sin and suffering joined We march to fate abreast.
Nearly sixteen millions of hands will aid you in pulling the
load upward, or they will pull against you the load downward.
We shall constitute one-third and more of the ignorance and crime
of the South, or one-third its intelligence and progress; we
shall contribute one- third to the business and industrial prosperity
of the South, or we shall prove a veritable body of death, stagnating,
depressing, retarding every effort to advance the body politic.
Gentlemen of the Exposition, as we present to you our humble
effort at an exhibition of our progress, you must not expect
overmuch. Starting thirty years ago with ownership here and there
in a few quilts and pumpkins and chickens (gathered from miscellaneous
sources), remember the path that has led from these to the inventions
and production of agricultural implements, buggies, steam-engines,
newspapers, books, statuary, carving, paintings, the management
of drug-stores and banks, has not been trodden without contact
with thorns and thistles. While we take pride in what we exhibit
as a result of our independent efforts, we do not for a moment
forget that our part in this exhibition would fall far short
of your expectations but for the constant help that has come
to our education life, not only from the Southern states, but
especially from Northern philanthropists, who have made their
gifts a constant stream of blessing and encouragement.
The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions
of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress
in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must
be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of
artificial forcing. No race that has anything to contribute to
the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized. It
is important and right that all privileges of the law be ours,
but it is vastly more important that we be prepared for the exercises
of these privileges. The opportunity to earn a dollar in a factory
just now is worth infinitely more than the opportunity to spend
a dollar in an opera- house.
In conclusion, may I repeat that nothing in thirty years has
given us more hope and encouragement, and drawn us so near to
you of the white race, as this opportunity offered by the Exposition;
and here bending, as it were, over the altar that represents
the results of the struggles of your race and mine, both starting
practically empty- handed three decades ago, I pledge that in
your effort to work out the great and intricate problem which
God has laid at the doors of the South, you shall have at all
times the patient, sympathetic help of my race; only let this
be constantly in mind, that, while from representations in these
buildings of the product of field, of forest, of mine, of factory,
letters, and art, much good will come, yet far above and beyond
material benefits will be that higher good, that, let us pray
God, will come, in a blotting out of sectional differences and
racial animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer
absolute justice, in a willing obedience among all classes to
the mandates of law. This, this, coupled with our material prosperity,
will bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth.